in my house 7 alice anwen cockburn 20/8/20
For In My House 7, i chose documentary photographer Alice Anwen Cockburn and her series of images titled 'In One Ear'. This project documents her father's journey through living with Alzheimer's and uses photography to capture objects and instances in the home where this disease affects or dictates his day to day activity. Her images are grounded in the reality of her father's life, and in Alice's words; "focus on the idea looking and delusions vs reality, what is past and what is present". I was drawn to Alice's project because of its subtlety and sensitivity; the conceptual compositions of each image work together to create a more allegorical take on the manifestation of this disease. As individual images the concept remains ambiguous but interesting, and together as a series a considerate narrative develops. It is evident that Alzheimer's is a disease close to Alice's heart, and in her submission she shared with me how discussion about it is often shrouded in scientific jargon and remains quite impassive to individual experience. Her aim for this series was to look at this condition more compassionately.
Transferring these images of an individuals experience in their home into another domestic space for this project added an interesting layer to this exhibition and gave a empathetic view into our personal relationships with where we live and how this can change over time. It also explores the notions of the familiar developing into the unfamiliar in response to experiencing Alzheimer's. I found an interesting juxtaposition in presenting images familiar to the artist in an unfamiliar domestic space. I wanted to present the photographs on different scales and in more nonchalant areas of the house to give the photographs more of an impact as a documentary series. They felt like echos or snapshots that linked together, and i imagined walking through the house and seeing little snippets of a person's life as a poignant and personable experience that worked well in the home.
The tea towel image is a favourite of mine, particularly because of how Alice explained its context to me. She shared with me that the red lined pattern reminded her of neural pathways in the brain, and its weathered appearance resonated with her in how Alzheimer's affects the brain. I presented it on the uneven surface of the kitchen radiator, and found an added texture in the dimly lit shadows that cast over the wall when taking this image. Projection always illuminates an image, and in this instance draws focus to the tea towel as a stagnant object in suspended animation. The light and shadows along with the texture of the radiator all collate together and manipulate the surface of the image to create an interesting visual composition. This mundane domestic object is suddenly loaded with emotive context.
Another striking piece in this series included a photograph of a red blanket covering the front door. The image is quite alluring to begin with, provoking intrigue about what the fabric is covering. Alice shared with me that when researching this project she visited a care home frequented by patients with Alzheimer's. She noticed how the exit of the main living area was covered by a brick patterned wallpaper to disguise it as an exit. One symptom of Alzheimer's is experiencing memory problems and confusion, with some people often wandering and getting lost on their way somewhere. Whilst used as a draft excluder in her father's home, Alice noticed a visual connection between the blanket and the covering in the care home. I projected this image on a smaller scale in the hallway in between named rooms. The liminal quality of the hallway i felt resonated with the ambiguous quality of the blanket. Its presence changes the architecture of the space, and using a smaller scale alludes to the subtle action of covering a door and how this can transform the function of the doorway. One might forget what is behind it if left up long enough.
I also enjoyed the focus on the front door in another image of a handwritten note that Alice told me is taped to the inside of the front door (notably when the blanket is taken down). It reads 'Check Angela is home before locking up please'. Whilst it is unclear who this note is addressed to, i found it very relatable to the domestic space. It made me think of mother's leaving notes for their kids before they leave for school, a husband leaving a note for his wife as he leaves for work, leaving a note for a delivery driver if you know you wont be home. It made me think about how integral the front door and threshold is, perhaps even more so in Alice's series. It is the boundary between the home and the outside world. When encountering memory problems associated with Alzheimer's, it is often useful practise to leave written notes and reminders for day to day things such as where the sugar is, or phone numbers that people might not be able to remember. This note on the front door is a moving representation of a gesture of care and consideration and accentuated the intimate nature of Alice's project.
I found a powerful significance within the image of Alice's father holding binoculars, coupled with an identical image with the binoculars removed from his hands. It was symbolic to me of how information is lost or seemingly disappears from view when going through the difficulties of this disease; the binoculars signifying a device that advances our visual capability that has been deleted from the image and the mere gesture is what remains. It is evident when presenting these two images in the same space that something is missing that was once there. I projected this on a larger scale than some of the other images in order to accentuate the gestures within the photograph.
Each image within this series is carefully considered and has a separate visual focus that converges within the realm of the domestic environment. The series was displayed as a solo show with the intention to act as a domestic intervention. The space is used as an extension of the intimate and vulnerable nature of the home, to really consider what home means to an individual. Alice's photographs reinforce this personal quality, with her documentary style emanating throughout the house in a familiar yet unfamiliar way. The line between delusion and reality is danced upon and sensitively explored.